Perhaps no place epitomizes Faulkner’s oft-quoted maxim that “the past is never dead” more than Jerusalem. And there are few other places where there is so little agreement about what the past was, or is. John D Hosler takes a particular slice through this history by focusing on “conquest: those ‘falls’, or moments from the seventh through the thirteenth century when possession of the city passed from adherents of one religious confession to another by way of conflict”—a story, he posits, that “is highly pertinent to its modern controversies.”

The Sasanians ruled an empire stretching from the Mediterranean to the Aral Sea. Under them, the Zoroastrian religion developed its most subtle metaphysics. Greek philosophers flocked to their capital in Ctesiphon, while in Babylon, the Jewish Talmud ripened. Iranian painting, metalwork and music were received enthusiastically in China and India.

It’s the 16th century, and the Ottoman Empire has just defeated the Mamluk Sultanate, conquering Damascus and Cairo, important centers of Arab learning and culture. But how did these two groups—Arabs and “Rumis”, a term used to refer to those living in Anatolia—interact? How did Arabs deal with these powerful upstarts, and how did Rumis try to work with their learned, yet defeated, subjects?

Kevin Lygo’s The Emperors of Byzantium is what it says on the tin: an orderly man-by-man (and occasional woman) account of the Eastern Roman emperors, from Constantine I who founded the capital city in his own name, to his namesake who presided over the fall more than 1100 years later. All are there, except the so-called Latin emperors who ruled over Constantinople in the decades after the Fourth Crusade. Contemptuous, Lygo cannot even bring himself to name them.